Early Life and Education
Evan McMullin was born in Provo, Utah in 1976. He grew up in a Mormon household and spent time living abroad in Brazil and South Africa as a child. McMullin earned a bachelor’s degree in international law and diplomacy from Brigham Young University. He also received a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
After graduate school, McMullin worked as an undercover CIA operative for 11 years. He led operations in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, focusing on counterterrorism efforts after the 9/11 attacks. In 2011, McMullin left the CIA to get an MBA degree and then became an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.
In 2013, McMullin shifted careers again, becoming a senior advisor on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He later served as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference from 2015-2016. This experience gave him an inside view of Congress and the Republican party.
2016 Presidential Campaign
Reasons for Running
In August 2016, McMullin surprised many by launching an independent campaign for president of the United States. He decided to run because he was dismayed by the Republican nominee Donald Trump and felt neither Trump nor Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton represented conservative principles. McMullin saw an opening for a third-party challenge from the center-right.
Key Policy Positions
McMullin took mostly mainstream conservative positions on issues like taxes, health care, and abortion during his presidential bid. Two of his signature proposals were reforming the tax code to make it simpler and flatter and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. He framed abortion as an important human rights issue as well.
Criticism of Donald Trump
Much of McMullin’s campaign focused on providing an alternative to Donald Trump’s controversial rhetoric and stances. In interviews, he criticized Trump as an authoritarian figure who did not respect conservative principles or basic decency. He particularly took issue with Trump’s comments disparaging veterans like John McCain.
After the 2016 Election
Stand Up Republic
Following the 2016 race, McMullin co-founded a non-profit called Stand Up Republic to promote democratic values and principles. The group aims to counter polarization and advance reforms like ranked choice voting. Stand Up Republic has criticized former President Trump’s attacks on democracy.
In addition to Stand Up Republic, McMullin served as a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a contributor to various media outlets after 2016. He remained actively engaged in political issues as an independent conservative voice.
2022 Senate Campaign
Announcing His Candidacy
In October 2021, McMullin announced he would run for U.S. Senate in Utah to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Mike Lee. McMullin aimed to build a bipartisan coalition of voters tired of partisan gridlock by running as an independent.
Campaign Themes and Messaging
McMullin’s Senate campaign focused on portraying Mike Lee as a partisan obstructionist while promoting himself as a reasonable independent. He supported bipartisan reforms like protecting elections, expanding gun background checks, and codifying same-sex marriage. He also made frequent media appearances to boost his name recognition.
In November 2022, Mike Lee defeated Evan McMullin 53% to 43% in the general Senate election, with McMullin winning a large portion of the vote for an independent candidate. McMullin proved he was a formidable challenger even in defeat.
What’s Next for Evan McMullin?
Although his 2022 Senate bid was unsuccessful, Evan McMullin remains a relevant independent voice in U.S. politics. Some speculate he could run for office again or work within a future administration focused on democratic reforms. He will likely continue advocating for anti-partisanship measures and speaking out about threats to democracy. At age 46, McMullin still has an opportunity to impact the political landscape for years to come.
Evan McMullin’s Impact on U.S. Politics
Providing an Independent Perspective
As a former Republican running as an independent, Evan McMullin provides a unique perspective different from the two-party status quo. His background as a CIA officer also informs his worldview. McMullin gives disaffected voters an alternative to consider.
Impact on the Republican Party
By running against Mike Lee in 2022, McMullin highlighted divisions within the GOP between traditional conservatives and Trump-aligned figures. His credible campaign could encourage more independent challenges to Republicans.
Promoting Democracy Reforms
Through Stand Up Republic and his campaigns, McMullin has elevated proposals like ranked choice voting that empower third parties. He also advocates for protecting fair elections and reducing partisan polarization.
Can a Third Party Succeed?
Some speculate McMullin could help build an enduring independent movement in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. But the institutional barriers make it an uphill climb for any third party to succeed long-term.
Legacy and Influence
More broadly, Evan McMullin has emerged as a national voice calling for reflection about the dangers of hyper-partisanship. He also represents Mormon political engagement. McMullin’s legacy will depend on if he inspires more independent leaders nationwide.
What is Evan McMullin’s background before politics?
McMullin worked as an undercover CIA operative for 11 years and later as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and policy advisor to House Republicans.
Why did McMullin run for president in 2016?
He opposed both major party nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and wanted to give Americans a principled conservative option.
What is Stand Up Republic?
It’s a non-profit McMullin co-founded after 2016 that promotes democratic reforms and anti-partisanship measures in politics.
How did McMullin perform in Utah’s 2022 Senate election?
While he lost to incumbent GOP Senator Mike Lee, McMullin gained a very credible 43% of the vote as an independent candidate.
What causes does Evan McMullin champion?
He supports protecting elections, expanding background checks for gun purchases, reducing polarization, and strengthening America’s key international alliances.